Happy days as champion of writers turns 40
The first issue of the UTS Writers’ Anthology was born out of a “reluctance to accept the bleak situation of fiction publishing”. And 40 years later it continues to provide a nurturing space for writers and champion new literary voices.
On December 2, UTS marked the occasion with the release of 40: Forty Years of the UTS Writers’ Anthology.
Dr Delia Falconer is the UTS’ senior lecturer of creative writing.Credit:Wolter Peeters
Since the early 1980s, the anthology has published short fiction, poetry, personal essays and non-fiction written by UTS students from the creative writing program. The roll-call of contributors is impressive, including Alison Whittaker, Toby Fitch, Beth Yahp, Gillian Mears, Sam Twyford-Moore and MTC Cronin – 1000 previously published pieces were on the long-list for the anniversary edition.
Reading the stories from 35 issues is like opening a sequence of time capsules, says Delia Falconer, UTS’ senior lecturer of creative writing, who has a 16-year involvement with the program. “Heroin washes through those ’80s and ’90s stories. So do beer, Seaview champagne, inner city doorsteps, wicker chairs in share houses, and cigarette butts in the monstera deliciosa. Ecommerce and emails appear for the first time in 2004, along with designer underwear and emails; veganism in 2005,” Dr Falconer writes in her anthology introduction.
Over the years a spectacular range of writers have endorsed the UTS Writers’ Anthology, which includes introductions by Kate Grenville, Malcolm Knox, James Bradley, Anna Funder, and, this year, Miles Franklin award-winner Melissa Lucashenko. One theme rings loudly: the importance of such courses and anthologies as nurturing spaces for writers.
Alison Gibbs debut novel Repentance was published in January. Credit:
Included in the anniversary edition are works by Sydney author Patti Miller, whose story Pink Cakes was also the title of the launch edition, Damien Lovelock (Celibate Rifles), Rachel Ward (Actor/Director), David Astle (Word Puzzles), Chris Jones (Queer activist), former Herald journalist Conrad Walters and Sydney author Alison Gibbs.
Gibbs’ short stories have been published in Australia and Britain, and have made numerous shortlists and won awards. She was recently one of the four winners of the inaugural Griffith Review Emerging Voices competition with her winning story, Emily Presents appearing in its latest issue #74 Escape Routes. Her debut novel Repentance was published in January.
This is Gibbs story Happy Days which appeared in the 2014 anthology:
My mother’s liberation in 1971 was the taste of tiny ice crystals in my school sandwiches.
Now that she was going to college, she told us, she had to become more methodical.
Methodical became the word of the month in our house, pronounced with a pounding emphasis while chopping vegies and washing up. It was best expressed in her purchase of a new chest freezer, along with sandwich bags, smudge-proof markers and other third drawer items that she believed would enable her to cope. Every Sunday evening, she set up the chopping board on the kitchen bench and cut, wrapped, packed and labelled all our school lunches for the week. I remember the towering stacks of sandwiches – Devon and sauce, Vegemite and cheese. I can see her sawing down the sides with a long, serrated knife.
It was during this brief and exhausting phase of domestic organisation that my mother was interviewed by a reporter from the local paper. Mum was part of the very first intake of mature-age students at the Lismore Teachers College. There were only three and she was the only woman.
She served the reporter tea and biscuits at our dining room table, after moving aside the large pile of school books she’d been covering for us in brown paper and plastic. He made cheerful small talk as he set up his tape recorder and Mum sat facing him, turning her wedding ring on her finger. Her face was a little too expressive, her manner mildly flirtatious; her beautiful green and hazel-flecked eyes moved this way and that. Being the only child at home at the time, I was allowed to sit and listen. I was intrigued by the dashes and squiggles the man made on his writing pad.
“So how old are you, Mrs G—?” the journalist began.
Mum frowned and conceded that she was 38.
“Going back to school when you’re almost 40, that must feel a bit strange. All those 19, 21-year-old kids . . .”
“It’s not exactly school,” she said. “I’ve just done that. I did my HSC by correspondence.” She glanced across at the ironing board where she’d done most of her study.
I had a memory of getting out of bed late at night and finding her working there in a small pool of light.
“And you have how many children?”
“Three. This is A—, my youngest. She’s in second class now.”
He waited for her to go on.
“So the kids are all at school and I thought, well, I can do something else now.”
40: Forty Years of the UTS Writers’ Anthology.Credit:
Then she launched into her story, the one I’d heard before. Stringing beans onto a piece of newspaper one night, she’d seen an article about a mother of four who’d enrolled at university when her children had left home. “I felt so excited,” said Mum, re-enacting the frantic brushing aside of beans. “I suddenly thought, I could do that, and applied to go to the college. And the kids have been great,” she said, drawing me to her side. I smiled. “I think it’s been exciting for them too.”
There was a pause as the man scribbled on his pad. My mother looked anxiously at the meaningless scrawl.
“And your husband,” he said, “he lectures at the college. That probably helped as well.”
He copped it then. The dagger look. The flash of the eyes that would have sent any member of our family into immediate reverse. Oblivious, he prattled on about a photo shoot on the Monday. The telephone rang in the hall then and my mother excused herself. Smiling, the reporter turned to me.
Bang! went the kitchen cupboard door early on Tuesday morning. I lay in bed and listened to my mother’s heel bones pounding across the wooden floors.
“Latchkey kid!” I heard her shriek and my father’s muffled reply. “Chaotic,” my mother again. “He called the house chaotic.”
Our bedroom door burst open and there was Mum, brandishing a copy of The Northern Star. “Daughter A—, seven, is not so sure about her new life as a latchkey kid,” she quoted, spitting out each word. She lowered the paper and glared at me. “What did you say to him?”
“She isn’t keen on the frozen lunches she gets at school these days . . . she spends the hours after school watching television!”
“I never said I didn’t like my lunches,” I cried. “He asked me what was different, so I told him about the freezer. And then he asked what my favourite TV show was and I said, Happy Days.”
“Happy Days,” blazed Mum. “Bloody Happy Days! When did you tell him all this?”
“You were on the phone.”
She threw the paper to the floor and trampled on the page, kicking and tearing at the photo of herself smiling on the college steps. Then she stopped, her face contorted and she began to cry. “Chaotic,” she whimpered, sinking to the floor. “I can’t do this, I can’t cope.”
My sister and I waited until she was spent, then we crept up and put our arms around her.
“Saw your mum in the paper,” chimed the kids at school. I nodded, opened my lunchbox and took out my sandwiches. There they were in their freezer bag, neatly labelled, possibly the last of their kind.
I looked at my mother’s handwriting and my lip quivered. Cold and soggy. Egg and lettuce. Tuesday.
Happy Days first appeared in UTS Anthology 2014 Sight Lines. Alison Gibbs lives in Sydney and runs her own writing consultancy. Her short stories have been published and broadcast in Australia and the UK, and have received numerous shortlistings and awards. She was recently one of the four winners of the inaugural Griffith Review Emerging Voices competition. Her debut novel Repentance was published by Scribe in January 2021.
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